In one of the wryer moments of his speech on Monday – historic if only because it could even be the last by a Prime Minister of the United Kingdom – David Cameron said: “If you don’t like me – I won’t be here forever. If you don’t like this government – it won’t last forever.”
Before, of course, going on to say: “But if you leave the UK, it will be forever.”
This was the polite version of his remark in Edinburgh last week that Scots should not vote Yes simply to “kick the effing Tories”. He could hardly say that to the audience packing Aberdeen conference centre as it was largely composed of “effing Tories”; quite possibly every single “effing Tory” in a country where they are in notoriously short supply.
And there were Tory touches; in a warm-up movie heralding the greatness of Great Britain, which mercifully stopped decently short of a burst of “Land of Hope and Glory”, a shot of Billy Connolly was incongruously sandwiched between the late Queen Mum and the Queen. (Who, Aberdeen’s Press and Journal reported, had actually arranged for journalists to approach nearer to hear her call on Scots outside Craithie Kirk on Sunday to “think very carefully” before casting their vote. What an operator!)
But the speech was aimed mainly at a churning Scotland outside the hall. Needs must, and at times Cameron sounded, if not quite like his predecessor and current vital ally Gordon Brown, at least like a social democrat. After an eclectic list of great Scots (Alexander Fleming and David Hume; JK Rowling and Andy Murray), he paid tribute to their countrymen who “led the charge” on pensions and the NHS and on social justice. Promoting Devo Max, he did not of course say, “I was completely daft not to have it as an option on the ballot paper”, but he had the grace to concede that the “status quo” had gone because “this campaign has swept it away”.
That said, there was as much stick as carrot. He – twice – mentioned “the automatic support that you currently get from British embassies when you’re travelling around the world” as something citizens of an independent Scotland would forfeit. But the other losses were more tangible: Scottish mortgages with foreign banks, interest rates no longer set by the Bank of England, and the prospect that “any banks remain in Scotland” – ouch – got into trouble, Scottish taxpayers alone would bear the costs.
But the passion was still there as he warned that “independence would not be a trial separation... it would be a painful divorce”. All told, it was a pretty good example of the truth that the best speeches are made by politicians who believe what they are saying – and also know their own political survival may depend on getting their way.
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